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Sunday December 12, 1999Volleyball Falls In East Region Finals to Pacific

STOCKTON, Calif.

Fourth-ranked Florida could not extinguish Pacific's fire as the Tigers handed the Gators their first sweep in a regional final and took the NCAA East Regional title to head to the National Semifinals in front of 3,218 fans at the Alex G. Spanos Center Saturday night.

The match started out reminiscent of Florida's 1997 comeback win in Madison, Wis. The Gators (33-3) were down two games to none by scores of 8-15 and 14-16. The same numbers were on the board two years ago, but the Gators couldn't come up with a five-game upset as the past two years (also vs. Hawaii in 1998). Pacific (32-2) fired all of its offensive weapons and won the third game 15-8 to earn its first Final Four berth since 1992. The Tigers will play Top-ranked Penn State in the National Semifinal Thursday, Dec. 16. Stanford and defending Champion Long Beach State will face off on the other side of the bracket.

The Gators came up with a 76-73 digs advantage, but could not stop UOP's offense. Four of six starters had double-digit kills, led by All-East Region Most Outstanding Player Elsa Stegemann with 30. The Tigers also had a different look from when Florida faced them in the NACWAA Championship round Aug. 27. Setter Kara Gormsen ran UOP's offense and distributed 73 assists, dug 17 balls and was in on five blocks.

"I think the difference was Kara," Coach Mary Wise said. "I thought our effort was solid. Pacific's ability to execute was better (than in August), and it all started with the setter."

Florida's seniors Jen Sanchez (San Antonio, Texas/Providence) and Jenny Manz (Orange Park, Fla./Middleburg) were named to the All-Region team. Sanchez dished out 58 assists and notched her 14th errorless offensive performance with four kills. Manz, the 1998 East Regional MVP, posted her second double-double on the weekend with 14 kills and 11 digs, and had four blocks.

Heather Wright (Martinsivlle, Ind./Martinsville) led Florida with 18 kills and a .455 hitting efficiency, and five blocks. Jenny Whitehead (Jenison, Mich./Jenison/Michigan State) had 15 kills and 13 digs.

Freshman Nicole McCray (Longview, Texas/Pine Tree) had 15 kills.

Sophomore Kris Bova (Milwaukee, Wis./Providence), who went down in the second frame when she hurt her lower back, came back in the same game and finished with a match-high 19 digs.

The three-game match took one hour and 40 minutes. Neither team scored more than three consecutive points.

"Pacific's ability to side out consistently was such an advantage," Wise said. "We ran out of substitutions. We didn't make many runs."

Three reasons for the Tigers' side out ability were All-Region Team selections Jamie Hamm, Tracy Chambers and Jennica Smith. The trio finished with 11, 15 and 21 kills, respectively and combined for only five errors. Smith hit a match-high .613.

Pacific is only one of two teams Wise has never beaten (Stanford is the other.). The Gators are 0-6 against the Tigers.

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